This week, Gabby Velasquez, Callum Wiggins, and Wes Keefer will be giving their opinions on wrestling all around the globe. Since WWE's WrestleMania went 7 hours, and another pay-per-view is just around the corner, we felt it was time for a break from the market dominator. We'll cover our favorite non-WWE wrestling promotions and wrestlers, as well as take a look at TNA's future as many of its biggest stars walk away.
Question 1: It's been a rough 2017 for TNA, losing the Hardys, the Kanellis-Bennetts, and recently their UK TV deal. What's causing the "number 2" promotion to sink and what can save this ship?
VELASQUEZ: TNA, or "Impact Wrestling," has the same problem as it always has: tone-deafness. The Hardy drama was because of new management, and their current legal issues regarding the "Broken" gimmick are another testament to the lack of vision TNA's creative team and management has. They push angles where old refs forcibly kiss women, have Josh Matthews scream over Knockout matches and use the slogan "Make Impact Great Again." They have no voice as a company, despite still having talent such as Rosemary and all of Decay. They have all of the talent in the world but no true direction, and the only solution is finding a united voice and choosing their battles more wisely. Do NOT mess with Reby Hardy. Honestly, how hard of a concept is that to grasp? Like WWE, they need to stop relying on the "old way" of doing things and truly invest in new talent, because right now their young guard is the only thing keeping Impact from being more of a joke than it already is.
WIGGINS: The prevailing problem with Impact Wrestling has been a lack of basic business sense. There have been periods of time where the company has flourished both in terms of creative storytelling and star power. Sadly, they have too often believed their own hype, leading to situations like the failed "Monday Night Wars" and inability to pay their wrestlers due to expensive tours with little to no advertising or merchandising behind them. Today, this has led to their biggest issue being linked to a brand that has a reputation for disaster and distasteful actions, which will continue to follow them until their dying breath. The only thing that can say them is completely distancing themselves from the negative aspects of their past and a few big name signings (which they are attempting to mixed results currently) to steady the ship. But any hopes of ever being competitive with WWE are long gone and their goal should now be securing a TV deal on a viable network, but even that will prove a tall order in their current state.
KEEFER: There were early rumors of the company being behind in paying their talents. That never helps. Sure, they are losing some of their top talents to their rival WWE, but the company is salvageable. In fact, they reached a deal with the Mexican promotion The Crash, which would result in cross-promoting and expanding their market. The advantage that TNA has over WWE is that they are producing World of Sport show for the UK and it could ruin WWE’s chances of controlling the UK audience. They are becoming more and more popular internationally and they could follow WWE in bringing international stars.
What's your favorite indie promotion or which would you like to try if you had more time for wrestling?
VELASQUEZ: Here's the thing about indie wrestling: it's not about consuming the most product, it's about finding a product that really connects with you. You can watch every promotion in the world: EVOLVE, CMLL, NJPW and the like and gain nothing from the experience because you don’t truly connect with the talent or enjoy the matches. I enjoy intensity and in-ring storytelling, hence my enjoyment of AJ Styles and Charlotte in WWE. I found both of these things by accident, really. Without a doubt, my favorite promotion in the world is Stardom (Wonder World Ring of Stardom), a women's wrestling promotion based out of Japan. Imagine Asuka's kicks, but an entire show of them. They run events often (as opposed to SHIMMER, which only runs a few events a year, though I do love me some SHIMMER as well) and showcase some of the most incredible wrestlers in the world, male or female. They have produced talent such as Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani and Kairi Hojo, and talent such as Deonna Purrazzo, Zoe Lucas and Toni Storm work there as well. What I love the most about them is the time they devote to their matches. Main events often last from 12-20 minutes, and are incredible displays of storytelling finesse and athletic ability.
WIGGINS: I tend to sample indie wrestling match-by-match rather than follow lengthy story arcs, which on the one hand dilutes my experience of following them, but means I can enjoy the very best matches without concerning myself with the worst. I have been a devout follower of Lucha Underground since its inception, the collection of colorful and supernatural characters mixed with high-octane and meaningful matches a great blend for me, but due to Season 3 being rather disappointing I haven't been following it as religiously. Outside of that, I keep track of some NJPW and ROH, although I find the latter of these extremely lacking in storytelling or intriguing characters outside of Dalton Castle and Jay Lethal to keep my engagement for long. With the British wrestling scene so vibrant right now I would be remiss if I didn't mention companies like ICW and WCPW that I tune into on occasion. Frankly, especially with WWE's growing relationship with independent companies such as Evolve, the indie scene is a great way for fans to familiarize themselves with the next generation of WWE stars.
KEEFER: There are tons of indie circuits out there, but the one I am more intrigued by is SHIMMER. The all-female promotion has housed some highly-talented females such as Beth Phoenix, Paige, Daffney, and Sara Del Rey. With the Women's Tournament approaching on the WWE Network, we are bound to see at least a handful of the women who showcase SHIMMER. There is also a rumor of an all-female brand in WWE and the roster could be filled with SHIMMER talent. The women in WWE seem to be overlooked more often than not, but they seem to be getting the right push they all deserve and the momentum should continue upward. New faces such as LuFisto, Candice LeRae, Jessicka Havok, and Tessa Blanchard could spice of the division and make the women as relevant as the top male competitors.
Question 3:Which competitors are running the wrestling scene outside of WWE, and how long, if ever, until WWE snatches them up?
VELASQUEZ: I had the privilege of seeing Matt Riddle live in February at a Glory Pro show wrestling against Michael Elgin, and I was immediately taken with him. It's truly incredible how someone with such a laid-back personality and demeanor can be so intense and hard-hitting in the ring. Riddle works a very MMA-inspired style (for obvious reasons) and works the crowd with astonishing ease. Riddle's most well-known work is with Progress, where he is currently their Atlas champion, and he has worked many EVOLVE events as well. WWE has expressed interest in him already, but even he agrees he has more to accomplish on his own before making the jump to NXT. Or, rather, returning to NXT. He had a rather wonderful photobomb during a recent NXT TakeOver he attended. Riddle's potential for growth is infinite. He has gotten so good so fast and has put on incredible matches in so many different styles, that I have no doubt the Bro will not only get to WWE someday but become a bonafide star there as well. But even without WWE, he has an amazing collection of matches under his belt that speak for themselves. I cannot wait to see what the rest of 2017 brings for him.
WIGGINS: From promotion to promotion, there are dozens of wrestlers that stand out on their respective rosters and could make a major impact in WWE. ROH has a significant number of these, with Jay Lethal, Dalton Castle, Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay all standing out to me as having fantastic star potential. There are also names like Ricochet, Pentagon Dark, Angelico, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Michael Elgin, Tetsuya Naito and many more that jump around the indies that would be great fits for WWE if utilized correctly. Of course, the women's rosters on both RAW and SmackDown Live could use fresh faces to make them feel deservedly on par with the men's divisions, and signing skilled performers such as Candice LeRae, Rosemary, Jade, Santana Garrett and especially Ivelisse would go a great deal to bolstering their ranks and shining an even brighter spotlight on the division.
KEEFER: Ring of Honor is also shooting talent to WWE and a tag team from ROH could spice up WWE's lackluster tag team divisions. War Machine, consisting of Hanson and Ray Rowe, captured the ROH Tag Team Championship and wrecked havoc for 143 days, accepting all challengers. They are a pair of brutal big men who could add some size to the tag team group. Speaking of ROH, Jay Lethal could make the jump to NXT soon. He is a constant top-tier talent and has held nearly every title in the company. He is ranked with the likes of Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe in the promotion's history. WWE could also snag three of Japan's top females in Arisa Nakajima, Io Shirai, and Kairi Hojo in the near future. Shirai is rumored to already have a contract negotiated with WWE and can add more international influence. While she has been with WWE before, Gail Kim has revived her career with TNA and has proven she can be a top tier face of the company. She is nearing the end of her career and could end on a high note with returning to WWE and proving her critics wrong.
Those are our thoughts on the issue, but where do you stand?
Let us know your answers to these questions in the comments below!